GEA lets operators learn in VR thanks to supportsquare

Ben Mahy is the managing director of Support Square, a company that wants to boost the efficiency of technical personnel by means of XR solutions. But what are XR solutions? And how can you implement them?

“XR is short for Extended Reality,” Ben explains. “XR is actually the umbrella term for augmented reality, virtual reality, assisted reality and mixed reality. The whole concept is to enhance your environment with virtual information, either in the real world or in a fully virtual world. The level of detail and immersiveness that you need, defines which type of reality you choose. For example, we use virtual reality for training applications, but we use assisted and augmented reality for remote visual assistance and digital work instructions. All of these will eventually merge into frictionless support with mixed reality to help people perform their jobs, based on the level of knowledge that they have and enhanced with the information they need at that moment.”

Supporting lifecycle services

Complex assets bring one big challenge to the table: keeping their performance at top level during their whole lifecycle. An additional challenge is finding the right people to do this. They need to have the correct knowledge and they need to remain up to date as well. “It’s a challenge to find the right operators. And if it’s hard to find them, you might also have a hard time keeping them,” Ben explains. “So it’s vitally important that you capture all that knowledge and that you can share it. Building your knowledge base is key to what we’re achieving with XR.”

“In the beginning, when a machine is first put into service, the training and commissioning is great and a lot of people understand everything. But as time goes by, people come and go. Both factual and conceptual knowledge tends to degrade. And then our solution for knowledge transfer comes in.”

Faster and easier knowledge transfer

The Coach product with remote virtual assistance is Supportsquare’s most day-to-day knowledge transfer mechanism. Ben explains: “Let’s say you have a problem and you don’t have the knowledge to solve it. When someone else in the back-office does have that knowledge, you can talk to that person in no time and he can help you without any visual communication gap, through remote visual assistance. It’s mostly done with glasses, but it can also be done on a mobile device as an ad hoc quick solution.”

Formalized knowledge, like standard operating procedures, can also be easily made accessible through this technology. In little steps you can explain how to perform maintenance of certain assets, without having to refer to chunky manuals. It’s all about making it easier to use.

Creating your own learning environment

And lastly, there’s knowledge building. The teaching takes place offline, but in a virtual world. “In this world, you have a whole bunch of additional possibilities. You can put people in complex, realistic but unsafe situations. You can see their behavior and how they react, and you can teach them the right course of action in several situations. You can create scenarios that are impossible to replicate in the real world. You can create as much complexity as you like, but of course it’s quite the effort to build the VR model.”

Supportsquare links the VR model to the actual human and machine interfaces that are being used in the organization, including all the logic of interacting with it. Our software actually communicates with the PLC (programmable logic controller) of the machine. “There’s a one on one match in behavior and reality. How you operate, what the onboarding process is … It’s all the same in VR and in reality,” Ben concludes.

Supportsquare and GEA Supportsquare is currently working on this project at GEA in Halle, Belgium. GEA is one of the world’s largest systems suppliers for companies in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industry. Their goal was to reduce onboarding time by 50 %. With this practical way of learning, operators can make mistakes without grave consequences and learn in a safe environment. A representative of GEA will talk together with Ben about the advantages and challenges of using XR at GEA.

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